http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/26/national/crime-legal/custody-case-test-japan-says-u-s-father-seeking-access-girl-held-grandmother/#.VjFsDkI-DVo

Custody case a test for Japan, says U.S. father seeking access to girl held by grandmother

BY 

STAFF WRITER

A U.S. man seeking access to his daughter said Monday that the case is an opportunity for Japan to prove to the world it no longer tolerates parental child abduction.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland is suing the mother of his Japanese ex-wife for denying access to his 13-year-old daughter.

His former wife left with the child in 2003, at the age of 9 months, after their marriage failed. The woman committed suicide four years later.

Toland said his situation would amount to a “felony crime” in other countries with up-to-date family laws.

“In Japan, this abduction by a nonparent is not only accepted, but it is condoned. I’m the only parent in the world to (my daughter),” Toland said, who is in Japan for the first time since the trial at the Tokyo Family Court kicked off in July.

Toland said if the case is resolved it would demonstrate to the world that Japan is turning over a new leaf after years of notoriety as a “safe haven” for parental child abduction. If his daughter is not returned to him, he said, it will only alienate the nation further.

Japan joined The Hague Convention on cross-border parental child kidnapping in 2014. The pact does not apply in Toland’s case because the abduction was within Japan — Toland’s family was based in Yokohama at the time. In addition to this, the convention cannot be applied retroactively.

“How can we expect Japan to ever resolve more complicated divorce, child custody issues if it cannot even resolve this very straightforward case, which does not involve divorce and where one parent is deceased and the nonparent is withholding a child above the parent who wants to care for her?” he said.

The daughter has said in a statement submitted to the Tokyo Family Court that she does not wish to be reunited with her father, according to Akira Ueno, Toland’s lawyer.

Given that the separation occurred when the girl was a baby, this suggests that her attitude was learned from others and that she is under a misapprehension of what her father is really like, Ueno said.

“In cases this like, Japanese courts have immaturely decided that children shouldn’t be returned to parents, oblivious to the fact that they’re bound to suffer once becoming adults,” Ueno said.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120413f2.html

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fate of child abductions bill in Diet uncertain

Staff writer

The government finally submitted legislation to the Diet last month for joining the Hague Convention on international child abductions but its passage appears far from certain.

Western allies have long pressured Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and are watching closely to see whether Tokyo lives up to an earlier promise to ratify it.

But the prospects of this happening in the near future already appear bleak because lawmakers are preoccupied with just one issue — Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s plan to hike the consumption tax.

Although Noda’s administration has decided to push for signing the Hague Convention, lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps have serious reservations and the bill’s passage is in doubt. According to the Lower House secretariat, a bill was submitted to the Diet in early March but has not even been referred to a committee for deliberation yet.

Lawmakers opposed to the treaty argue that joining it may result in children being forcibly returned to an abusive environment, since many Japanese mothers have cited domestic violence as a reason for fleeing their overseas domiciles and taking their children to Japan.

But abandoned spouses, who end up with little or no access to their children, have been urging Japan to take action.

At a seminar about the Hague Convention on Monday, Kazuyuki Hamada, a parliamentary secretary at the Foreign Ministry, admitted it’s possible the bill may not be approved by the end of the Diet’s current session.

Hamada, however, confirmed that the ministry is treating the issue as its top priority and will do everything in its power to ensure the bill’s passage.

“The political maneuvering is not easy because we are surrounded by so many (competing) political agendas,” Hamada said. “(Given) these agendas, we are not 100 percent certain we can ratify the Hague Convention by the end of this Diet session.

“But we are determined to push it forward because the issue is hugely relevant to the values of not only of our country, but also those of the international community,” he said.

Kirsten, an American mother who attended the seminar and asked that her last name be withheld, recounted how her former Japanese spouse abducted her 14-year-old son, in Japan. Although the case technically does not fall under the Hague Convention, many former partners in the nations, whether they are Japanese or foreigners, experience difficulty getting access to their children after they divorce of break up.

Kirsten said she was granted legal guardianship of her son after she separated from her husband, but the boy never returned from a visit to his father in 2007. Her former husband held their son for more than a year before the courts acknowledged he should be returned to his mother.

“I used to respect my dad and looked forward to seeing him on the weekends with my sister. But one time I went to my dad’s without my sister and was told that I would no longer be able to see my mother. I was really shocked,” said Kirsten’s son, who wished to remain anonymous.

The boy said he spent that year with his father looking forward to the postcards that his mother regularly sent him.

“I was very confused about the decisions my dad made. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my mother,” he said.

But after they were reunited, he said he was also able to gradually rebuild his relationship with his father.

Akiko Ohnogi, a psychologist who specializes in child and family counseling and has worked on many child abduction cases, stressed the importance of maintaining healthy relationships with both parents.

Such relations have “an impact on (the child’s) entire life — it’s not just something that happens during childhood and eventually goes away,” he said.

“The attachment to both parents determines how children view themselves, how they view interpersonal relationships and their general world view.”

Other panelists at the seminar included Colin P.A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto and an expert on international child abductions.

The seminar was jointly organized by child rights advocates John Gomez and David Hearn, who directed the movie “From the Shadows” on the theme of international and domestic parental abductions, and which is currently in postproduction. The event was supported by the Harvard Club of Japan.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120221hn.html

 

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012

 

HOTLINE TO NAGATACHO

Focus on ‘exceptions’ waters down abduction pact

 

By AMY J. SAVOIE

For the attention of the Japanese government:

 

News photo
Divided family: Christopher Savoie is seen in June 2009 with his son, Isaac, and daughter, Rebecca, at a park near their home in Franklin, Tennessee. The children were later taken to Japan by their mother, in violation of a U.S. court custody decision. Savoie was arrested in Japan in September 2009 during an unsuccessful attempt to regain custody. AP

 

Like many other court hearings that follow a divorce, a court transcript out of Tennessee reflects testimony concerning a couple’s two children:

Attorney: Ms. Savoie. … You have known all along that Dr. Savoie’s biggest fear is that you’re going to take those children to Japan and he’ll never see them again; you know that?

Noriko Savoie: I’ve never split (the) children and (their) father. I know how important (a) father is for children, and I am not going to do that. I keep telling him I’m not going to do that.

Noriko Savoie spoke these words shortly before she did precisely what she promised under oath not to do: In August 2009, she kidnapped Isaac and Rebecca Savoie from their father’s home in Tennessee — away from their school, their friends, their church, and away from their loving father.

They were taken from a country whose laws say it is in a child’s best interest to know and be loved by both parents, and they were abducted to a land that prefers a “clean break” after the dissolution of a marriage — where one parent is expected to disappear forever.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction would provide a remedy for the prompt return of these and other abducted children, if only Japan would sign it.

For too long, Japan was “considering the possibility” that it might join the Hague treaty someday, and the government promised to think about it after some further study.

As the only G-8 nation that has still refused to sign the Hague despite relentless international pressure, Japan has been under attack by human rights groups, psychologists and ambassadors to Japan from several countries, all of whom insist unequivocally that it is in the child’s best interest to have access to both parents -regardless of a divorce.

Acquiescing to foreign pressure, Japan has finally announced, amidst great fanfare, that it would soon sign the Hague treaty, perhaps even within the next few months.

Growing up in Japan’s culture of uso mo hoben – “lying is also a means to an end”- many Japanese abductors, upon a divorce, may have felt justified in giving false testimony in order to gain access to their children’s passports.

However, for the scores of left-behind parents who have been lied to (“I would never kidnap the children”) and who suffer daily through the agony of having lost a child, Japan’s recent promise to sign the Hague is being studied with an abundance of caution and a large dose of skepticism.

Their concern is well-founded: Recent Diet session videos reveal that rather than finding ways to return children after signing the Hague, Japan’s efforts are focused on creating “exceptions” that would allow its courts to refuse the return of abducted kids.

This begs the question: If Japan is going to sign the Hague treaty in good faith, then why focus only on creating loopholes?

The nonprofit group Bring Abducted Children Home (BACHome) brought its concerns to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

Working in conjunction with several Japanese left-behind parents, BACHome warned Campbell that Japan is writing legislation that will allow it to essentially seize jurisdictional control over any new and existing abduction cases in order to ensure that children would, in fact, not be returned to the countries from which they were taken.

These loopholes would allow the abducting parent to coach (or brainwash) a kidnapped child, encouraging that child to develop the “opinion” that he/she does not want to be returned, and that child’s purported “wish” would be upheld.

Kirk Weir, an internationally-recognized psychologist, has researched this issue and found, more often than not, that a child’s alleged “opinion” that he or she does not want to see a left-behind parent is completely unrelated to the child’s actual “wish for a relationship” — in other words, the child is taught to have the opinion that the left-behind parent is “bad” based only on the taking parent’s version of events.

Mr. Weir states that during the parent-child reunions that he studied, “very young children easily resumed a good relationship with the nonresident parent (i.e. left-behind parent) once a visit took place.”

He suspected that the children enjoyed “the immediate pleasure of love and affection from the (left-behind parent) and were quick to forget the influence of their family’s views.”

Unfortunately, under Japan’s new rules an abducting parent can claim that the child does not want to go home (when, in fact, it is the parent who coached the child into voicing this opinion), or an abductor can claim domestic violence as a means of justifying her actions.

The problem with the latter is that Japan has taken this frightening (and very serious) Western phrase of “domestic violence” and broadened it into something unrecognizable.

Around the time that Japan announced a decision to join the Hague, Dr. Numazaki Ichirou devised a list of domestic violence scenarios that could be used to justify the refusal of a child’s return under a “domestic violence exception.”

Within his list, Dr. Numazaki suggests that even if a father is not at all violent or dangerous, “just one” of the following accusations could prevent a father from being reunited with his child: if the father ever criticized the mother’s shortcomings, if the father was ever annoyed when the mother “talked back” to him, or if the father ever “felt hurt” when the mother pushed back at him.

In other words, interpersonal marital strife is being defined as “domestic violence”.

The Japan Times recently quoted Japanese attorney Takao Tanase’s opinion of this: “Japanese family court judges sometimes recognize domestic arguments as verbal violence, but what couples who are facing divorce don’t argue?” (“Bills Could Render Hague Toothless,” Feb. 8).

Of course a child should be protected from actual risk of domestic violence, and this column is by no means an attempt to diminish the importance of protecting children who are at risk of grave and imminent harm by an abusive parent.

The problem is that Japan will allow temporary, inter-personal (nonviolent) disagreements to justify the permanent abduction of a child.

Given this inhuman standard of behavior, even Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi could not hope to prevail against such guidelines, for even those “heroes of peace” frequently disagreed with those in their midst — often quite vociferously.

In other words, it seems that Japan’s domestic violence “catch-all” provision will only allow the return of an abducted child if the left-behind parent is abnormally docile or, indeed, is a robot.

Like the Japanese saying, kaden rika (“if you really don’t have bad intentions, then don’t act like you do”), if Japan truly intends to abide by the Hague treaty, then why does it appear that the government is planning to sign the Hague Convention but has no intent to actually honor it?

Amy J. Savoie received her doctorate from Dartmouth College and is currently a third-year law student at the Nashville School of Law. Dr. Savoie is married to Christopher Savoie. In August 2009, Christopher Savoie’s children were abducted from the U.S. to Japan by his ex-wife. A few weeks later, he was arrested while trying to reclaim his children. Send submissions of between 500 and 600 words tocommunity@japantimes.co.jp